ROTC AND SDS ABSOLUTISM
To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
The CRIMSON recently carried a letter by several SDS members attacking YPSL's petition which calls for a student referendum to decide whether ROTC should continue to enjoy special privileges on campus. The issue, the letter declares is, not ROTC's special status. Rather, there is no issue: "Morally, then, there is no 'right' to be part of an an organization like ROTC."
Such a statement is repugnant in its moral absolutism: It is anti-democratic in principle and seems to sanction any action to prevent a Harvard student from participating in ROTC.
The SDS' basic argument is that the only legitimate and tolerable position on the Vietnam War is "opposition," that the only tolerable evaluation of ROTC's role in American policy is "counterrevolutionary," and that therefore democratic decision-making is irrelevant to decisions about ROTC because there are no decisions to be made. The SDS letter maintains that because belonging to ROTC is immoral, a student has no right to do something immoral, i.e., join ROTC. Visions of Cotton Mather! Or, indeed, George Wallace, a proponent of similar doctrines of absolute truth!
Of course, many of us on this campus oppose the War, and many of us likewise may consider ROTC immoral. Just as we support many forms of political action to end the War, we have the right and the opportunity to demand a referendum on ROTC special status, to persuade our fellow students that ROTC should not have these privileges, and beyond that, to try to persuade those students who are members of ROTC to resign, and to dissuade others from joining.
But to declare "Thou shalt not have the right to belong to an immoral organization" is not merely ludicrous. It implies that on anyone's say-so, Harvard students can be shorn of their right to join, for example, SDS, on the grounds that SDS is immoral because SDS' confrontation politics strengthen support for Wallace and repression. Who's to decide what's moral and what isn't? If SDS can arrogate to itself such moral infallibility, why can't the Mountaineering Club--who get closer to God--do the same? Jon Ratner '70 President, Harvard-Radcliffe Young People's Socialist League